The Café Impresso, in El Ateneo Grand Splendid at Avenida Santa Fe 1860 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, immediately fits the bill for the basics of a great café. All is here: a well-appointed wait staff, real ceramic plates, glass glasses, proper napkins, an accommodating attitude, and all the food and drink that would be served in any very good Argentine confitería. Generally these days, few cafes anywhere provide these things, and to find one that does almost comes as a surprise, but it is not these things alone that make the Impresso a great café.
In January, 2008, the British journal, The Guardian, named El Ateneo Grand Splendid one of the five most beautiful book stores in the world, and it’s true that a good book store on the premises can help a café’s effort to be great, although not always, as we know from the many Barnes and Noble stores, to which a café is attached as a pedestrian necessity to increase book sales. The pastries served at these places are like large cow flops with hard-edged whipped cream and a cheery on top.
A truly great café is so because of what has happened on the premises, of who once owned it, of who wrote about it - or in it. The person who allows El Ateneo Grand Splendid’s Café Impresso to ascend to levels only dreamed of by others is Max Glucksmann.
To be sure, his is not a household name outside of Argentina, but were it not for Max Glucksmann, the Argentine recording and film industries would not have developed as quickly as they did or, especially in recording, with such formidable results.
An Austrian, Glucksmann migrated with his family to Buenos Aires in 1890 when he was 15-years-old. Max was a very industrious young man and went to work soon after his arrival in Argentina for the company of Lepage y Compañia, a photography studio. He was one of three employees in a shop that was seven by twenty-five meters in its entirety. He often bragged later in life, shrugging his shoulders in the Buenos Aires manner of humorous acceptance of one’s fate, that his first salary was 50 pesos a month. Even in the late nineteenth century, this was not a lot.
Lepage y Compañia recognized the coming importance of the moving picture, and expanded its operations to that primitive, but exciting art in 1900. In the meantime, the possibility for recording voice and music had also become a reality. In a 1931 interview, Max explained what had been happening in Buenos Aires. “Forty years ago, the first Lioret phonographs were imported from France. They used celluloid cylinders. Then came cylinders made of wax. And finally in 1900 disks appeared, even though they were pretty bad.”